Major League Baseball is a field of dreams for many American boys, but for former Edgerton
resident Paul Lopez, taking care of the baseball field is his dream.
When Paul Lopez was growing up in rural Johnson County, he and his brothers would spend hours outside playing sports on the family’s acreage – the Lopez boys went so far as to mow a baseball diamond into the grass, so it only made sense to Paul that, when choosing a career, it was in turf management.
After graduating from Kansas State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in horticulture and turf management, Lopez found himself living out his dream. First he moved to Florida where he worked for a university managing their athletic complex. In 2008, Lopez was offered a job in Connecticut working with the San Francisco Giants Double-A affiliate, the Connecticut Defenders.
An opportunity to work for a Major League franchise was the chance of a lifetime, so Lopez temporarily said goodbye to his Florida fiancé, Amber, and headed off to his field of dreams in the northeast.
One day, in mid-June 2009, Lopez was working a game when he felt an excruciating pain in his groin. A professional, he tried to work through it, but by the end of the day Lopez was doubled over and looking for relief.
“It felt like I’d been kicked really hard in the groin and it persisted through the day,” Lopez explained. “I called my fiancé who was in Florida, to ask if there was something I could take for the pain. She wanted me to go to the emergency room, but I thought maybe I could sleep it off.”
After trying unsuccessfully to sleep, Lopez knew something more was wrong. At 3 a.m. he got himself to the emergency room. That trip started him down a path of doctors visits and an eventual diagnosis of stage two testicular cancer.
With his world turned upside down, Lopez decided to leave the Giants organization and head back home to the familiar confines of Florida and the loving arms of his fiancé to seek treatment.
While the couple had planned a large church wedding for the coming November, they knew they wanted to face Lopez’s treatment together as husband and wife. Two days after his arrival back in Florida they were married by a priest in a small informal ceremony.
“We had a cake, a priest, decorations and the invitations were ready to send. We made a quick decision to cancel all that and start treatment immediately. I moved on a Wednesday and on Friday we had the wedding,” Lopez remembered of the scrapped November wedding plans. He said he believed that the comfort of having Amber as his wife would sustain him through the scariest time of his life.
“I wasn’t afraid I was going to die but I wanted to go through the treatment with my wife, not my fiancée; it made me feel better to have my wife go through it with me.”
With his new wife by his side and his family regularly flying in from Kansas to support him, Lopez survived his cancer battle – one that lasted through most of 2010.
Unfortunately moving back to Florida for treatment cost him the job he loved.
“Things moved fairly quickly, I didn’t have a lot of time to sit and think about it because I was constantly getting ready for surgery and for chemo,” Lopez said. But now that the battle has been won, he can’t wait to get back on the field.
Lopez’s wife Amber sensed the longing that he had to get back to work, the problem the couple found is that jobs in the field are few and far between. Around Christmas time Amber came up with a plan to get her husband back on the baseball diamond, even if it was just for one day. She contacted the Kansas City Royals organization and arranged for Paul to get the Groundskeeper Experience.
On April 1, as Royals starting pitcher Jeff Francis took the mound, Paul was part of the crew that helped prep the field and make sure during the game that it remained in tip top playing shape. Forty-four of Lopez’s family and friends were on hand to make the event memorable for his MLB debut.
“It was wonderful, I don’t know how to put it into words,” Amber Lopez said.
For Jean McCarthy-Norris, Paul’s mother, Paul and Amber’s the trip to Kansas City for the game gave the family pause to be thankful that Paul came through the fight. They took the opportunity to look back on where they’ve been.
“When they were home this time we were talking about the difference in him – now he’s gotten his weight back and he looks healthy,” she said. The family sorted through pictures of that awful year.
“Looking through the photos, he even said, ‘Oh my, I had no idea I looked like this.’ I’m just so thankful and praise God for getting him through it, for getting us all through it. But Paul was so positive through it; he’s been much stronger than any of the rest of us.”
The Groundskeeper Experience, Amber hopes, is just the beginning of wonderful things to come for her husband.
“He is the best husband in the world, he’s just amazing and, after all he’s been through he deserves everything in the world. I can’t give him everything, but everything that is in my realm that I can give to him I will,” Amber said.